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The Arrangement 19(8)

By:H.M. Ward

Finally, I walk over and stand next to him. I need to finish. I need to make sure he doesn't pull a Lazarus and come back for me again.

My mouth feels dry and my heart races as I form sentences in my mind, lacing together things I don't want to say.

"Sean, I didn't know how to tell you. I'm sorry."

When he finally speaks, his voice is flat. There's no fight left in him. Sean stares past me, and the only indication that he's upset is the way his jaw tenses.

"We talked about our pasts and lovers--Avery, you lied to me. How could you tell me … " his voice cracks before he can finish. He clears his throat and runs his hands through his hair, pushing it back from his face. When Sean looks up, the sheen in his eyes is gone. The tears that would have fallen will never be shed. He's hardened himself.

I can see him shut me out in those seconds, and it's like having a guillotine drop on my heart.

My tears are real, so real that they burn my skin. They might as well be acid for how much they hurt. I swallow hard and turn to face the wind. It bites at my face and whips my hair. The tightness in my chest is paralyzing, but there was no other way.

Sean will never forgive me for this.

I've destroyed any chance of a future we could have had, but I know Sean will be safe. That's worth it. He'll walk away from all of this. He'll live. Sean will go back to his life in California and make another billion bucks. He'll look back at this time with me as a plague that tormented him. He'll never be the same, but at least he'll live, which is more than I can say about me.

There's still no way for me to get out of this mess without a body bag.


Sean doesn't speak to me after that. We walk on in silence, and I'm the only one who has wet cheeks. The tears keep falling even though I wish they wouldn't. A fake pregnancy and pretend engagement lie ahead of me. I'll jump through the hoops and hope that I can figure something out so I can find my brother before Trystan gets hurt. I can't let anything happen to him either. He's been through enough.

"You're thinking about him." Sean's voice pulls me from my thoughts and the guilty look on my face is the only answer he needs. "You should have told me. I thought he was attracted to you--I know he is--I just didn't realize it went both ways."

Lie. Avery, you can't tell him it was an accident. You can't tell him you aren't sure what happened that night, the little voice in my head wails. This is torture. I walk faster, pressing my feet against the sand harder and lengthening my stride.

"It does. When you noticed, I felt bad, so I denied it--but we'd already slept together by then." My jaw tightens as I spit out the words.

"So I was right, and Trystan meant it when he said he'd steal you from me. I'm sorry."         



"What?" I nearly trip over my feet. Sean catches me by the elbow and turns me toward him. "Why would you say that? You have nothing to be sorry about. I was the one who--" Sean places a finger over my lips as he stares into my eyes.

"I did this. I broke you, neglected you, and pushed you to your limits. When you needed me the most, I threw you together with Trystan. He loves you, Avery. I know you'll be happy together. He can give you everything I can't." Sean's hands linger on my face. He trails his finger along my cheek and pushes a strand of hair behind my ear. I pull away from him, horrified.

"I cheated on you. You didn't make me do it, and I sure as hell didn't slip and fall on his dick! Sean, take this for what it is--the end."

A couple of old people turn toward me while I yell. The old woman has on a sunhat and her lips twitch when I swear. Her eyes are gray, and her skin is wrinkled with age. She leans into her man-friend and whispers something. A moment later, she walks up to Sean, leans in and whispers something. I can't hear a word. Sean looks at her as if she said something absurd. The old woman waggles her pointer finger at him as she walks away.

"Don't forget what I said," she calls with a wink as she turns back to the older man and takes his hand.

That could have been us--old and happy. It's a future we'll never have. I shake the thought from my mind as curiosity takes hold.

"What'd she say?"

"Gibberish, nothing more," Sean says, shaking his head.

I go to grab his arm and stop myself. Sean looks at his arm, at the place I want to touch him. His dark eyes lift and meet mine.

"Sean, won't you tell me?" It feels petty. I just ripped apart his soul, and I'm asking to know what a stranger said in passing. The truth is, he doesn't have to tell me anything anymore. That's what I want, right? To push him away? To keep him safe?

I stop pressing him and lower my gaze. Things have to change. The arrangement is no longer the same. There will never be a ring or a wedding, not with Sean Ferro. The shared secrets will fade like a snowflake on the pad of my finger. I'll remember how he felt, and the shape of his face, but soon those memories will fade, too.

I have no right to ask anything anymore. The thought leaves a path of loneliness in its wake. I wrap my arms around my middle and take a deep breath. Glancing up at him, I force a smile.

"Sorry." It's such a small word, but it means so much.

I'm sorry things ended this way.

I'm sorry I brought so much pain into your life.

I'm sorry death is following me and casting its shadow over you.

I'm sorry things can't be the way we want.

I'm sorry I can't find another way to leave you behind.

I'm sorry I hurt you.

I'm so, so sorry.

He watches me for a moment, his blue eyes slowly searching my face before meeting my gaze. The look lingers, and every regret I have about us plays across his face. It's like he knows how I feel and how much I wish this didn't have to happen.

He thinks the baby is real. It's not.

In that moment, the world fades away. The only thing I can think about is the life I've thrown away. Not the picket fence or the little house, but the real life we could have had together, the real baby that looks like Sean. I mourn the real life of passionate kisses from a man who adores me and midnight conversations that last until dawn.

For the longest time, I only saw the outside of things--the house, the yard, the flowers--not the family within the house. I never realized how much I wanted to hold his child in my arms. Now I never will. I feel like I'm going to be sick, and try to hide it. Sean notices.

"You've been doing all this pregnant. I didn't even notice. I'm sorry for everything, Avery."

He takes a deep breath and looks down the beach at the elderly couple. When he glances back at me, the softness in his gaze fades as his walls go back up.

"She said you're going to have a baby girl. Old people can spot a pregnant woman a mile away. She thought I was the father. I didn't correct her. Come on, let's find Trystan."


Even though it's night, and there is very little light, I still feel like I'm going to get my head blown off. Their goal is for me to leave and get away with my rock star boyfriend, while the two of them figure out how to get out of this clusterfuck of a mess.

As we approach the shore, there's a little white boat sitting on the sand, two oars stretched across the seat.

"Get in." I climb into the little watercraft and go to sit on the seat while Sean grabs the oars. He shakes his head and points to the spot in front of the bench. "You can't sit up. This plan only works if no one sees you."         



Mucky water, sand, and something slimy covers the bottom of the boat. I make a face and nearly protest, but when I look up at Sean, I just do it. I press my body down into the bottom of the boat, resting on something cold and slimy, unable to smell anything but rotting wood.

Sean takes us through the reeds around back, moving the boat insanely slow as to not make a sound. He's constantly looking around, scanning everywhere without moving his head. I can't imagine what's going on inside his beautiful mind. He must feel so betrayed, but I had to do it. Sean isn't indestructible. His mother was indestructible, and still she's dead.

When we pull up to the dock on the opposite shore, I sit up and wipe the slime off my face. Sean grabs a rope and ties it to the boat, then turns to help me onto the dock. We're at a launch a few houses down, directly across from the main road out of here.

"Why'd we come over here?" I don't understand what they're doing. No matter what, I'll be seen going down this road.

"Masterson is meeting us here with a speed boat. He'll drive you to a different port and Trystan will pick you up there. I couldn't risk you being seen leaving from here."

Before I can respond, the hairs on the back of my neck rise. A moment later, the hairs on my arms follow suit, and goose bumps cover my body.

"It feels like someone is watching," I whisper to Sean.

"I know."

"Who is it?" I stumble out of the boat like a drunk ballerina, swirling around to catch my balance. Sean takes my hand and steadies me.

"I don't know, but they had plenty of opportunities to take us out and they haven't."

"So it's a friend?"

His brows crinkle together as if I should already know the answer to that question. He releases my hand and looks over my shoulder before returning his gaze to mine.

"Do you know anyone who would risk their life for you that isn't already here?"

I swallow the sob that wants to come up and shake my head. He hates me. Oh, God!